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Thursday, April 27, 2023

Stenciling Wrapped Shipments

When we build something, we want to show it off.  "Take pride in your work," as the old saying goes.  (Or the 21st century version:  "Leave no square inch un-marketed upon.")

My friend Ed Swain (PRR Middle Division), aka "The Loadmaster" **, recently sent along a shot of an unspecified load in a gondola, wrapped in a tarp, and stenciled "ALCO", that was really compelling. 

This is cool enough in its own right - the gon, the stenciling, the mystery load that looks like it might be a prime mover?  Or maybe a section of road switcher hood...?  But it got me thinking - wouldn't it be neat to adapt the idea to some on-line customers?  And for that matter, what a great way to reference industries on other layouts, or those named for friends but not modeled, as I do with billboards.

Field Fabricating in St. Amour, W. Va. is named for my late friend of 43 years, Brian Field (Kentucky & NorthEastern) ***.  His 1967 Olds 442 convertible was so thoroughly rusted when he bought it that it contained virtually no intact factory sheetmetal - so restoring it necessitated fabricating a complete Frankenstein, from salvage parts, tin, pop rivets, and Bondo.  Hence, the name of the company - which was Darren Williamson's (IHB) tribute to his effort and/or mania. 

The Della St. yard crew pulls the mystery shipment 
from the loading shed at Field Fabricating.

Since a steel fabricator can ship a vast variety of things ****, the Field Co. seemed a great candidate to try this out on.  But for starters, what exactly is it they'd be shipping?  Well... who cares?  It's wrapped! 😀  All we need to know is, it's going to be big enough to require a gondola and not a truck, but not a depressed-center flat.  And, it probably has sensitive components and/or is not painted yet, requiring protection from the weather.  I say good enough!

So with basically endless possibilities for the shape, the goal was simply to create something plausible, in that size range.  I mainly wanted it to have some dimensional irregularity, so it would create interest in the angles and draping of the tarp - but not be too delicate.  I ended up using a long wood block for its main...  umm...  thing, with a longer and narrower, err... chassis underneath, and a uhh...  clerestory of sorts on top.  I'm imagining a large electrical control center, but honestly it could be anything that could be built off-site and integrated into a larger project. (Or vessel - an inland fabricator could easily be sourcing specialty boat chunks for the Portsmouth shipyards.)

The tarp material had to be thin enough to drape properly, but still hardy enough to not end up torn or deformed by handling.  Candidates included Saran Wrap which was too thin and unstable, and a hunk of old shower curtain, which was too thick.  I ended up using the package from an Eddie Bauer shirt, which seemed a good middle ground - and it holds paint too.  I used 3M spray adhesive to anchor the tarp on the bottom, but nothing on the top or sides, so that it could stretch and drape naturally.

The paint is Model Master Blue Angel Blue, which made the best "tarp-y" color of what I had on hand.  It's even pretty close to Alco's, but honestly, in that era it could be almost anything.  We just need a dark enough shade to stencil. 

The lettering is left over from an early decal attempt for the Field building itself - smaller and more condensed than the final version that's up on the cornice.  Ideally I suppose the load should say "Fabricating" on it too, or "The F.B. Field Co. Inc." which is the actual corporate entity, but I didn't feel like messing around with another set of decals.  In fact, "FIELD" may be enough of a household word in the region that it can stand alone, like "FORD".  I'm not sure - I'd have to ask a St. Amour resident.  I'll do it up right for the next one!

This was a simple and fun experiment, but I think it opens up a world of possibilities.  Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think in the comments below!


**    There's a billboard in rotation on the SNR that's a tribute to Ed Swain and all the meticulously detailed and prototypically secured open-car loads on his layout.  Thanks for the inspiration, Ed!

***   Since we've just put his name on a tarp, it seemed a good time for a visual on Brian, in the context of several other folks you either know or have heard me talk about.  (Or, you may have seen industries named for them on the SNR.)  How about this shot of the original crew in 1992:

Left to right:  Darren Williamson ("Large"), yours truly ("Needle-Neck"), Brian Field ("Small"), Roger Rassche ("Phat"), Rick Colloton ("Schwab"), and Dan Hadley ("Dan").  Roger and Brian have left the building already, too soon.  

****    If you're interested, here's another post on open-car loads for Field Fabricating, and a little background on the company and its facility too:  Suffolk Northern Ry.: Two New Loads for Field Fabricating

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Stopping by Woods at Mineshaft Gap


I finally had a chance to wrap up the forestry at Mineshaft Gap.  I got Virginia Hill (the big ridge) mostly done several years ago, and even "completed" the creek in 2020.  But despite the promise of prefab trees, the foreground areas just take forever.  For starters there's the me-like stewing over every single tree, in terms of size/shape/color/quality/placement, rather than just carpeting the hillside, as with more distant scenes.  

But also, I like to detail the forest floor up front, since you'd be viewing from the middle of the woods in that location.  That takes time but it's worth it.  

Aside from being able to hide a bunch of "easter eggs" in the woods, catching a glimpse of a passing train through the scrub growth is totally just like life.  Railfanning in the eastern US is primarily about getting to where you can see at least one entire piece of rolling stock -- around, over, or through the trees -- before it gets away.  Especially in West Virginia.  

[Utah?  Pffththtt -- "Look Ma, I can see for a hundred miles!  I can catch 19 trains in one shot!"  Where's the sport in that?  Come to hardwood country, fan-boy. 😉]


Anyway, first how about a couple of "Before" views, for comparison. 


Only the future forest floor is roughed in, beyond the clay cuts and cinder fill.  The contour along the creek (far left) is just in plain paint, since the ground will not be visible.  

(And how about that shrinkage/separation from the fascia?  Fixing that was included as well.)

I'm pleased with the macro result of the "After" -- not just to be relieved of the eyesore of empty contours, but also because it provides a nice defining edge to the scene at Mineshaft Gap, as I'd hoped.  

It's a useful viewblock from the areas across the aisle -- makes it feel much less like you're floating in space, and more like you're in a holler watching a railroad bounce off the valley walls.  Most of what you can see beyond the hills and woods now is more hills and woods.  And backdrop, which of course is even more hills and woods.  Starting to feel downright rural.  

The new "old growth" on the right-hand side of Logan's Run now highlights the original contour of the valley, vs. the more angular, barren fills put in by the railroad and the pulpwood lot.  

SNR's re-alignment of the creek for the overpass 
has had a deleterious effect on the opposite valley wall.

Having the forest run down to the roundhouse now helps complete the original vision for the mainline up on the grade, which is of a fill cutting across the valley.

The woods as scene definition and viewblock works in the other direction, too.  

Still to come:  I need to "organic up" the clay cuts (background) with scrub growth and detritus - but that'll be in the "detailing" portion of our show, later in the program.  Like say, in the 2030's. 

Several years ago my friend John Miller (Kanawha & Lake Erie) gave me a still he thought belonged nicely in the Appalachian territory transited by the Suffolk Northern.  The edge of Mineshaft Gap was about the only wooded place on the layout with a gentle enough grade to use it, so I'd been looking forward to giving it a home for quite a while.  Thanks, John!

Sawyer MacShay, whose name in the mountaineer brogue 
is pronounced roughly "Sour Mash", 
is widely renown for distilling Carter County's finest white lightning,
in the ancient Highland Scot tradition.  

I augered out the fire pit so I could use a "Flickering Flame" from Evan Designs. 

It's even got its own on/off switch.

The logging road now feels much more like a raw cut through the woods too, as it's supposed to be.  
The scrub growth has already filled in the gaps -- but then, it does that.  

With visibility at the crossing now inconveniently obstructed by trees, 
Ronnet-Pulaski Lumber Co's ramshackle trucks
now have to grind to a responsible halt on the steep, 
rutted grade down to the SNR right-of-way.

Well, thanks for reading.  Having something to write about is a definite incentive to get stuff done!  

And now it's on to the next eyesore.  So much barren hillside yet to go... As Robert Frost said,

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

But hey, making progress.  If you're curious about place names or the oddball trees, see below ***.  And let me know what you think down in the comments!

*** Reference links:

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Déclassé Buicks

- or -

How to Adapt Glistening Exotic Antiques for the Workaday Post-War World


Those of us modeling the 50s are blessed these days with a variety of excellent scale model automobiles fitting the period.  On the SNR though, it's only 1952, so most of the car "fleet" should be from the 40's, with their pointy snoots and pontoon fenders - and that's an under-represented class in HO.  Also under-represented are mundane Ford, Plymouth, and Chevrolet sedans, in favor of the rarer, classier models, which stand out a bit too much for a "fleet" look.  Sylvan makes quite a range of 40's cars, but those are Lexan kits - expensive and a lot of work.  Someday...  

So to fill out the fleet with older cars, I needed to reach back into the '30s.  Oxford Diecast of the U.K. offers a very nice 1936 Buick which is a good add, even if it's a convertible - but by '52 it would be 16 years old - an automotive Methuselah at the time.  It would be at best a $75 car, assuming it hadn't already been declared terminal for needing rings and a valve job.  Those beautiful Oxford cars were going to need some "facelifting", and "downscaling", to fit Truman-era Appalachia.   


Join me for a look at a few tweaks and considerations that scratch an itch from my other hobby. 

  • Dual side-mounts.  Who are we, Roosevelts?  Only the fanciest cars would have carried them in the first place.  And after 16 years, certainly most would have been discarded as being in the way.  Granted, with a rumble seat there was no trunk to put a spare in, but most coupes and roadsters carried one on the rear bumper.  Putting on airs with fancy covered tires, gracious sakes - thankfully they were not cast-on, and could be pulled away.  I painted the hollows black on the maroon car, and tried to match the body color on the yellow car.
  • Whitewalls.  Until the mid-50's, these were another extravagance that you'd only find on newer luxury cars.  Very few people buying a used car, or a new car from the "low-priced field", would have coughed up the extra five bucks for wide whites.  Yet every over-restored, option-laden, too-shiny rig at a "Boomer Car Show" these days, like most every HO model, is sporting gleaming sneakers like Spike Lee.  Look at period pictures - most everyone's on blackwalls.  See below.  

  • Black grilleHuh?  For some reason, the yellow car came with its grille and cowl painted black.  I'd never seen this before, and could not find an example on Google.  So I returned the grille to silver, and hit the cowl with body color.    
  • Top boot.  In the history of convertiblism, no one has ever put the cover on over any folded top, except for parades and first dates.  They are an enormous pain.  Even with my '62 Caddy, I only put the boot on for the first car show of the season - then once I need to put the top up, it's back into the trunk again until next April.  

  • Top well.  Without the boot though, I needed to do something to simulate the top folded down into the well.  So I filled the mounting holes with putty, and painted the edges flat black to simulate the canvas top where it attaches to the body.  I painted the center a grayish-black to simulate the top's interior as seen when folded, then outlined some of the edge shapes in glossy black, to represent the top's header bow and side rails.  It's no contest winner, but it does go a long way toward suggesting a workaday old convertible from a distance.
  • Paint.  Until Messrs. Ditzler and Dupont graced us with acrylic enamels and clearcoat lacquers, automotive paint was just not that good.  It was not terrifically shiny right out of the booth, and until the mid-50's, waxing was almost unheard of, unless your chauffeur needed something to fill his downtime with.  So being unprotected, the paint just oxidized away down to the primer.  As I try to do with any model auto more than 4 years old, I painted both cars with Dullcote to kill the gloss.  And since they're so old, I also added surface rust on the horizontals using pastels - particularly on the hoods, because of the engine heat helping the process along.  

Our dull, faded '36 makes quite the contrast with the brilliant, week-old '53 Pontiac parked ahead of it.

  • Dirt.  You know what else wasn't that good?  Roads.  Most country roads were still dirt in the '50s, or maybe paved with gravel or cinders if you were lucky.  Most folks didn't wash their cars much either, since they'd get dirty so quickly on those roads - so rural cars got pulled into a downward spiral of dullness and filth.  Shiny cars were for city folk!  So I added a general coating of dirt, particularly on the fenders and wheels, and ground in 16 years' worth of use into the drivers' seats as well.  The dirt and rust also served to dim down the cream yellow, to more of a proper background level.

The downtrodden Buick parked on Della St. begs the question:  where is the owner shopping?
Is he bargain-hunting at Matt-Mart, or has he been saving his money for the jewelry store?

Another of my "someday" jobs will be to make a pass through the whole automobile fleet, and apply these considerations across the board for a coordinated look, as we do with the freight car fleet.  Here's a good target shot for that fleet look, from Detroit in what looks to be 1951.

What are some of the things this photo tells us about the street "scene" in that period?

  1. Very few cars are shiny
  2. Very few cars are even clean - even in a city on paved streets
  3. Very few cars are on whitewalls
  4. Very few cars have full wheelcovers, rather than just hubcaps
  5. Very few cars are luxury cars, or even from the "mid-priced field"
  6. Very few cars are not a dark color
  7. Very few cars are pre-war
So this demonstrates that if we're wanting to build a representative sample for our model streets, it behooves us to concentrate on the mundane rather than the exotic, just as with freight cars, for the majority of the fleet.  (Now, if you'd like to join me for a car-spotting deep-dive on this beautiful shot, see below.**)

And in any case, thanks for reading, and let's hear what you think in the comments!

** OK what gems does this feast for the eyes hold?  

  • The newest car I can make out is the '50 Chevy front & center.  The one back in traffic might be a '51.
  • The second-oldest car I can see is the '39 LaSalle back in traffic.  Interestingly it also is one of the cleanest - might well be a chauffeured car.  Old money has no problem with old things.
  • The oldest car is the beater '35 Ford behind the LaSalle.  Virtually everything else on the street is post-war - at most, six model-years old.  
  • Is the Hudson getting a push?  Or is the guy behind him just that impatient!  Any further up his pipe and the guy could see daylight through the grille.  Same with the poor Studebaker 3 cars ahead.
  • Hey look - a black '49 Mercury coupe that hasn't gotten the James Dean chop & slam job yet!  Rebel Without a Cause is still 4 years off - but in the 21st century, there are nearly no stock ones left.  
  • Check out Mr. Car-Proud in the black '50 Pontiac coupe!  He's got a glistening Simoniz job going, along with gleaming wide-whites.  Totally out-sparkles the equally new car next to him.  
  • In the absence of any new Cadillacs, the light-colored '49 Olds wins the technology prize, boasting the only OHV V-8 in the whole shot.  The LaSalle and the Fords & Mercs have V-8s, of course, but they're flatheads.  (The engines!)
  • Man I love this stuff.  Hey, where are the pavement markings?!

Monday, January 23, 2023

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye

The St. Amour yard goat, S-2 #137, rolls along the Western Ave. line 
with an important shipment for the Manufacturer's Generating Co..

What's Up?  Dock.

I've long had a hankering for a depressed-center flat car, but needed to find a reason to have one on the layout.  A few years ago, I built an equipment dock for the small power plant in St. Amour, in part as a destination for such big electrical loads, someday.  It's a wee bit wee for this purpose, but hey, it's the Suffolk Northern - what isn't?

Dock: check.  Next up: a car.

Roll Out the Zoloft

A while back, I got a depressed-center flat car as a gift from my friend Jim Bax, who is the honoree of the JBAX reporting marks for the James River Basin Petroleum Corp. refinery.  It's a Roco model, and has been sitting on the shelf ever since, new-in-box, waiting for its coming out party.  I liked that it's a 6-axle car, whereas most of the models you see are of the four-truck variety, which would be overkill in the tight confines of the SNR physical plant.

But the Roco needed some work for its debut.  For starters it had truck-mounted couplers, and weighed nearly as much as a postage stamp.  After some draft gear fabrication I was able to jam a couple hundred pounds of lead skeet shot into every nook and cranny, including the hollow between the deck and frame, and get it to at least stay on the rails when breathed upon.  

However, as a low-boy it was riding on 26" wheelsets...  and while they looked to be of great quality, having both metal wheels and metal axles, every last one of them was out of gauge.  It was bad enough to derail the car on virtually every turnout, and no testing with additional weight would remedy it.  Further, the wheels were fused to the axles so tightly that they were impossible to budge without collateral destruction of the wheelset.  

So having a poorly tracking car, with oddball wheelsets, some of which were now destroyed, I was in a bit of a bind.  I tried standard 33" InterMountains, but that left it riding way too high, and created clearance problems with the trucks too.  Luckily I was able to locate a set of Kadee 28" wheels - close enough for who it's for.  I still had to ream out the journals to get the Kadees to actually spin, of course, but ultimately did get the thing to track fairly reliably.  

Woof.  At least all that was left to do was a better brake wheel & staff, and weathering, especially to mute the dazzling, chocolate-brown plastic deck.

(And hey, look - a bonus shot of a JBAX tanker.  Thanks for the well car, Jim!)

Depressed-center flat car: check.  Next up: a load.  

Transformers:  Robots In Disguise

(Get the title reference yet?  😉  If you were watching TV in the 80s, you couldn't avoid it.)

The goal here was to find a transformer load big enough to justify a well-flat, but small enough to not also require a high-wide movement.  That's actually a pretty narrow range, and no amount of searching would reveal one that'd fit the bill while also being an appealing model.  

Walthers makes a nice kit, which I'd planned on using, but it turned out to be gargantuan.  Gave that one away.  Beaucoup 3DP and resin options are out there, but they all failed one of the dimensions, the era, and/or the aesthetic tests.

Enter, as always, my friend and tech man Darren Williamson (IHB).  He looked around for drawings usable for 3D printing, but found equally few candidates fitting our specs.  Finally he just engineered the damn thing himself, using numerous references from photos and plans, and printed it for me.  With a couple of iterations and a coat of Westinghouse-y paint, this is the result.

I couldn't be happier.  (Thanks, D!)  I think one of the best features is those cooling tubes on the sides.  Modern units use cored radiators like automobiles, and, those are usually shipped dismounted from the transformer - so that the actual load is kind of just a box.  But in the old days, the oil was cooled just using circulating pipes, which were integral to the unit and therefore shipped as a complete assembly, adding gobs of character.   

Darren also added a variety of representative control boxes, insulator mounts, stabilizers, and other details - and those funky top brackets that are mounts for the oil reservoir.  His original design included the tank too, but especially perched way up on top, that would have been shipped separately.  Probably the brackets too, but no way I was parting with those!  

Transformer: check.  Next up:  loading the thing.    


The Loadmaster

Enter my friend Ed Swain, whose beautiful PRR Middle Division is replete with open-car loads.  And every one of them is prototypically mounted, with chocks and blocks and straps and chains and rigs of every size.  So much so, in fact, that he qualified for the billboard rotation on the SNR.


A while back Ed had turned me on to his secret muse, the book of AAR Flat Car Loading Practices, part of the Railway Prototype Cyclopedia.  This is another rabbit-hole volume of addictive period minutiae, on par with the Postwar Freight Car Fleet book I mentioned in an earlier post.

Well, the flat car "bible" shows that transformers in the 25-250 ton range should be tied down using no fewer than eight 1" steel rods, secured in some way directly to the car's frame.  And the unit is to be girded at its base by brackets bolted through the deck, or on steel-floor cars, actually welded to the floor.  Who knew.  These guys were serious.

The AAR rules offer numerous options for the format of those brackets, so I cobbled up some representative articles from Evergreen I-beams and channel, and mounted them to the car.  

This of course means if I ever want to run a different load, it will need to have the same footprint as this one.  But that's no problem - and with any luck it will provide a convenient excuse to build up another car.

For the stays I used .015 brass rod.  These are to be mounted to the transformer's loading hooks, or - to the mounts for the loading hooks, if the hooks themselves are removable, which is the route I went.  

The car features mounts in the depression slope that are secured to the frame through the floor, for just such a purpose - so I put four of the stays into those.  The other four stays went through holes drilled in the upper frame rail, since the car does not have stake pockets. This practice was specified by the AAR too.

Because I'm a loads-in-empties-out kind of guy, the transformer had to be removable - so seating it and getting all 8 of those stays into their respective holes at one time is a little like putting high-heels on a cat.  The price we pay.

Loadedcheck.  Thus concludes yet another post with far more verbiage than I intended.  But the project was a trip and had some fun stories to tell and people to thank.  Thanks to you for reading, and let fly with the comments below! 

Number 137 gently accelerates the massive transformer away from the Della St. interchange.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

A Couple of Aging Automobile Cars

With a robust car fleet in service, and all that forest still needing to be planted, the last thing I should be working on is more boxcars.

"But Mama - that's where the fun is!"
-- Manfred Mann / Bruce Springsteen

I can't help it - the variety and condition of aging cars that survived WWII is just mesmerizing.  My friend Jim Rollwage (UP-Denver Pacific) got me deeply hooked on the postwar freight car fleet, by sharing a book called, oddly enough, The Postwar Freight Car Fleet. (NMRA, 2006).

In this tome, we in the modern world are treated to a deep dive on the subject by an unknown railfan, who spent 1946 and '47 taking pictures in and around Harrisburg, Pa., of... freight cars.  Just...  freight cars.  Oh, my.  You might think you couldn't possibly care, that far down a rabbit hole, but you just... can't put it down.  It's a snapshot of a point in time in the classic era, and no two car classes are the same on different railroads!  

So I had a couple of oddball cars on hand that I'd wanted to maybe work into the fleet at some point...  Reading through this book I found credible examples of each, and the bug bit to get those into SNR paint.  It happens that they're both double-door cars originally built for automobile service, but that wasn't necessarily important.  What was important, was that they were wood.   They just don't build 'em like they used to, you know.


In 1921, the Railway placed an order for 850 USRA-design 40' double-sheathed cars, which became the 20xxx series.  That order also included another 100 double-door cars intended for automobile service - a class of specialized equipment then just in its infancy.  The auto cars were tacked onto the end of the series, in the 20900-20999 range.  

By the late 1930's, the automobiles rolling out of Detroit's factories had gotten long and fat, across the board.  The 40' boxcars designed to carry little Model T's just weren't suited to the trade anymore.   So most of the 209xx class were taken out of automobile service, and rebuilt for general merchandise.  Most received Dreadnaught steel ends in place of wood, and a power hand brake.  Steel roofwalks and/or Youngstown doors were also applied as needed, although our feature car was bypassed for those upgrades.  Repaintings included the large new solid herald, AAR-standard reporting marks, and sans the "Railway".  

Many railroads also removed the extraneous left door as part of their overhaul of such cars, but the thrifty Dutchmen in Suffolk found such an expense frivolous.  And by retaining their double doors, this class turned out to be ideal for handling the crated Jeeps pouring out of Toledo during WWII, headed for the Atlantic.  

This one is actually an old AHM ready-to-run car, complete with all the trainset accoutrements including truck-mounted horn-hook couplers, and garish, impossible paint.  

(And hey, how about those roller-bearing trucks, too!)  You might say "Jeese, why would you bother with such junk, when there are so many good cars out there?"  And you'd be right - except that: 
  1.  At its core, this is a fairly uncommon model of a not-so-uncommon prototype,
  2.  Bargain-hunting is all part of the fun (I picked this car up for 3 bucks!), 
  3.  I enjoy the challenge of adapting oddballs, and 
  4.  I had one of these cars as a teenager that I painted and decaled for Northern Pacific, so there's some nostalgia at work. 

What always bugged me most about the AHM cars, though, was that enormous, blank side sill under the doors.  Yes it was common to reinforce the sill on double-door cars, especially wooden ones, but not often to such a huge degree.  Some research in "the book" revealed an almost exact match for the car, with only a minor reinforcement under the doors:

I was thrilled to find this reference - the AHM car's proportions really favor it, once that huge sill is trimmed away.  And, it's sporting much newer Dreadnaught ends too, like the AHM.  Interestingly though, its original vertical-staff hand brake was retained in the rebuild, something rarely seen on new ends.  While I loves me some vertical brake staff, skiving off cast-on details from corrugations was way beyond 80/20 for our 3-buck model.  So we're saying the Suffolk shops upgraded the hand brake too.   

Ironically, I was already finished with the car and looking at pictures of it for this post, when I saw up close that foot-thick steel roofwalk and tree-limb-diameter stirrups.  You know that Clint Eastwood "Eeeuughgh" face?  Like when he's looking at carnage, usually of his own making?  

Yeah that.  So it was back to the workbench to un-finish the car.  I made a new running board, wooden this time, out of Evergreen strip, and replaced the cast stirrups with brass rod.  Still not perfect, but much better, I think.

I'm sure there's a beautiful resin kit out there for a similar car, which I'll enjoy building someday to replace this guy.  But there's a lot of forest I should really be working on first.


The larger car is from an order for 200 cars built in 1928.  SNR had assigned single-sheathed, steel-end cars to the 22xxx series starting in 1925, and this subclass claimed the 22600-22799 range. 

These cars were the cutting edge of auto-box technology at the time, with 10' 6" ceilings, fixed racks, and end doors - made for handling all those big, bourgeois touring cars roaring out of Detroit in the Roaring Twenties.  Model A's could still squeeze through the doors in the 40-footers, but your modern Packards, Cadillacs, and the like, needed newer, bigger accommodations.  

Like most such cars, SNR's retained their auto racks and end doors throughout WWII, and resumed automobile service when production returned to civilian vehicles.  Some even lived to carry cars with tailfins, although they were also regularly loaded with furniture, lumber, and all manner of non-automotive freight, too.  The SNR class received repaints in 1946-47, but few modifications.  

I remember being amazed when I first discovered these cars, as I had always associated exposed Z-bracing with short, low-ceiling, single-door cars like Train-Miniature's.  Who knew!  It was inevitable that the SNR would need an example or two.

Our feature car is an out-of-the box MDC model with SNR lettering.  Those models also have a big, unsightly sill reinforcement under the doors like the AHM did - which, as it turns out, none of the numerous prototype examples in "the book" have.  

I had intended to slice those sills down too, but MDC did a nice job integrating them into the frame, with full-depth cross members behind them, and rivet detail too.  I still might do the conversion one day, but it will be a bit more involved than the 10-minute hack job on the AHM.  For now, let's get it rolling!


Our new friends high-tail it for Suffolk on SM-8, amid a bevy of SNR boxcars from the 1920's.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Notice Cards

Regular SNR operators know that there is a switchlist posted at each town to guide a local crew's regular work.  

However for occasional random events such as flag stops, setting out a car going a different direction, business car moves, etc., I have relied on notes attached to a train order.  The regular train order directs you to consult the note at a certain step.  I have my traffic software generate the notes along with the switchlist. 

The downside of this, aside from all the CPA work (Cut, Paste, Assemble) - (I can say that, I'm a CPA) - is that, because the real estate on the orders is pretty limited, the notes are printed in a reeeeeeeallly tiny font.  (Getting pretty hard to read for all these old guys I operate with.)  😉

So due to both considerations, I've overhauled that process.  Microscopic "notes" have now been replaced by color-coded "Notice" cards, which are posted on the layout fascia, as near to the town's panel or depot as possible.  It's analogous to notices hooped up along with orders to train crews on the prototype, or bulletins posted at control points.  

Asterisks on the order now direct the crewman's attention to an external Notice at a specific location.  

Large fonts for the train symbol and big color blocks should make the Notice cards easy to identify at a distance.  Clipping them to the fascia should keep the crewman from having to juggle multiple documents with the train order, and eliminate the risk of them getting separated.  

The inscrutable note in 8pt Arial Narrow font, 
formerly stuck to the old PL-3 order, 
has been replaced with 
a clear and friendly Notice card on the fascia. 

The Notice cards are red, yellow, or green.  Red is for passenger train flag stops.  Yellow means pay attention because there is some special switching work to do.  Green means no action is required.  

Green is important because, just like a clear signal, green not only indicates that you can proceed, it also provides positive confirmation that you have indeed found the indication at the place where you were expecting to find an indication, so you're not left searching.  Every asterisked note on a train order will have a notice card on the fascia, in some color or other.     

Local passenger trains have scheduled stops at stations of any actual import, and flag stops (conditional) at places like Podunk and East Backwater.  So the bright red notice card functions as a station agent's flag at those locations. 

Even across Segway's congested alcove, 
Train 32's crewman should have no trouble seeing 
the bright red Notice card below the Hadley depot, 
telling him he needs to make a flag stop in that little hamlet today.

A side benefit to the scheme is the ability to at last remove the MoW equipment from the switchlist for Dominion.  No matter how many ways I've tried to handle this, it universally generates confusion, as to whether the switchlist indicates the cars that should be on the Materials Yard's siding, or the cars that should be in the MoW train.  

Now the Notice card unambiguously stipulates the moves.  
I printed up extra blank cards to accommodate random cars 
and future additions to the MoW fleet. 

It's my hope that this scheme will reduce confusion, eye strain, and setup time all at once, while still allowing me to "call an audible" - to deviate from the playbook occasionally, and keep the defense guessing.  It's also open-ended, allowing for future interesting wrinkles to be added pretty easily. 

So watch for asterisks on your next SNR train order, and look for a Notice card at a control point near you!

Thanks for reading.  Let me know what you think!